star trek tricorder

Star Trek-style medical device promises near-instant diagnosis

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Medical conditions could be instantly diagnosed in the future thanks to Birmingham Aston University researchers, who have developed a working desktop prototype of a machine which can take readings from blood and human tissue using laser beams.

The device, which has similar capabilities to the popular ‘tricorder’ device used in the long-running science-fiction TV and film franchise Star Trek, is a laser-based system that uses light beams to perform painless, non-invasive checks on medical indicators such as cardiovascular performance and other key metabolic information.

It works by shining the laser beam on the patient’s skin, while the patient feels nothing. That data is then instantly processed by a computer and reproduced as a graph.

The information can be useful for medical professionals looking at energy levels or diet balance and has already been successfully trialled at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. A portable prototype - with applications beyond medicine - is also being worked on.

The tests, which take just minutes, can help assess variables such as regulatory rhythms, the metabolic activity of tissues and a range of tissue biomarkers, with no invasive needles involved in the process.

Developers at the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT) said it allows a range of tests to be carried out “quickly and painlessly”.

In cancer patients it can be used as a high-precision way to identify the margins of head and neck skin cancers, which could help reduce the risk of tumours returning.

The prototype device uses lasers to scan the patient's blood

A prototype wearable monitor has been developed that athletes can wear on their wrists.

Much of the technology is ready to go into production and the university recently launched Aston Medical Technology to commercialise inventions.

Professor Edik Rafailov, of AIPT, said: “This technology will allow a range of tests to be taken quickly, painlessly and without any reason for patients to feel nervous - there are no needles involved.

“Results are instantaneous, which is better for patients and more efficient for healthcare providers.”

His colleague and senior research fellow, Dr Sergei Sokolovsky, said: “We have managed to bring together multiple technologies in a machine that is compact, simple to use and - from a patient’s perspective - extremely user-friendly.

“It is a huge step forward in terms of improving the speed of diagnostic work and also in terms of reducing invasive tests.”

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